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MEMOIRS OF AN ITALIAN TERRORIST
Carroll & Graf PublishersCopyright © 1981 SEMIR
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIn the summer we would go to the beach. (Or maybe we would go to the mountains, or to the country, or into the hills: let me make it clear from the outset, what I write here can't be true, it can only be truthful; and many will understand when I say that telling your own story is a privilege, not an act of courage.)
And so we would go to the beach.
But the beach was always so incredibly far away, and it seems that all I can remember of those distant vacations is an endless dusty road and the merciless heat and the regular noise of my clogs. So many pairs of clogs, so many wet swimsuits, so many beach bags tossed to the ground.
And the smell of doughnuts (or maybe they were fritters or strudels or cakes or foccaccia): the smell of the afternoon comes back to me even today, an afternoon near a pine grove, an afternoon that was too long and too azure, as the poet says.
But a doughnut every day-I wonder, isn't that like no doughnuts at all?
And then there were the crickets (or the cicadas or the blackbirds or the wood grouses).
The crickets would chirp. That's what crickets do, right? They chirp constantly, they never stop. And the children can't sleep, because it's too hot, or at least that's what they say; but they are really just waiting for the crickets. To stop. Chirping.
So this is a vacation. The Red Brigades-people say-give their militants one month's paid vacation. Nobody gives me anything.
This will be my vacation: writing my story, or a story that somehow resembles my story. This too will be an anonymous vacation, one of those vacations you never talk about, just because it's not worth talking about. A vacation that leaves no traces, not even a photograph to remember it by, a photograph with lots of kids covered with black sand, and you can barely recognize yourself, much less any of the others.
What I'd really like to do is go away.
Just leave, take a long long trip somewhere, get away, body and mind, somewhere different. I am so tired, and when you enter this long tunnel that my life has become, you just need to forget the idea of a future. There are no roads out of here.
One way out, of course, would be the Revolution. But let's not kid ourselves. More likely, it will be prison. Or worse. You don't think about it, of course, but then you can hardly imagine going on like this for the rest of your life either. I willingly accept both possibilities: jail, and worse. I don't care in the slightest. In the meanwhile, I take my trip, in my head, and in my books, in the images that I hold on to.
This is the world, reread through my feelings.
My travel companion is Corto Maltese, and there is no point to pretending otherwise. Corto Maltese's China, Corto Maltese's Amazonia-those are the places I want to go.
Corto Maltese's China is a place filled with stone-paved roads, hand-drawn dragons, young girls' slippers. Everywhere you see lanterns and butterflies fluttering over rice paddies. Red lanterns from a time when the Revolution was still possible. From when there were warlords in Russia, from when baronesses traveled through the night aboard trains carrying a sizable share of the Czar's treasure.
It's not the China of posters and mountains leveled for irrigation projects.
And Corto Maltese's Amazonia is a land of the last headhunters and the last of the real adventurers. Corto Maltese's Venice is a city of card-reading fortune-tellers and Freemasons, and Corto Maltese's America-there is no America, it doesn't exist yet. There is only the Orient. Not the mystical Far East, but the Orient of sailing ships, teeming commerce, and true oppressors.
I like a world where something rustles in the dark, where there's something out there, but it's too soon to tell what it is.
A world not unlike the one I actually inhabit now.
You might say everything started with that demonstration in May 1977. I had already been a member for a year and a half of an organization that was in the area of the Autonomia. It was a large and active student organization, and our positions were considerably at variance with the more traditional attitudes of the Autonomia. Nobody referred to it yet as the theory of needs, but for us it was already the way we did things. Our conversations were constantly-you might almost say, obsessively-focused on what we called, and what we still call, behaviors: the lifestyles of young proletarians, the desires that are embedded in those lifestyles, and the forms that they take, like self-expression, the claim to existence, attacks against the system of power. This, this above all other things, was our area of political and cultural interest.
We all or nearly all came from the experience of the Youth Groups, and in those groups we had truly done everything imaginable. From protests to concerts to takeovers to invading movie theaters all the way up to outright theft and psychedelic experimentations, and I am referring to drugs (LSD, especially).
That was where it all started: that was when I left Lotta Continua and I joined the Autonomia. At the time I was very, very much of a spontaneist: I sensed that something very important was developing in the proletarian youth movement, and I believed that any structure was too narrow and too rigid to contain it; that needs and behaviors simply had to "explode." That was the way I thought: explode. Without any half measures. This was a phrase that I used, and we all used, all the time. No half measures. While Lotta Continua was always talking about organizing the Youth Groups, I thought that was just intolerable. I thought that if anyone was going to organize the Youth Groups it ought to be the Youth Groups themselves: we should self-organize, in other words.
And that is what we started to do. Here's how. We would all inveigh constantly against the attitude we described as "miserabilismo," against a conception of the labor movement that called for the attainment of bare necessities as it projected an austere, ascetic, rigorous image. And we wanted the opposite; we are all for the excess, we used to say. We wanted everything. We didn't just want bread. At that point, someone would say: "We want roses too." "No," I said during one discussion, "Let us eat cake! Marie Antoinette was right." Everybody liked that a lot. And so we decided to expropriate some blue jeans.
I swear, I wasn't afraid. Not because I am especially brave. That remains to be seen. Because, quite simply, this is how I am: fear might be there before, long before; or else afterward, even a long time afterward; but never during. All things considered, for me fear does not come with thought or even imagination or elaborate fantasizing. And so it might happen that I become terribly afraid six months later, when it happens that my mind touches, by chance, on some detail, an instant, an episode in an action committed or remaining to be committed, or when a dream or a fantasy transmits an image or a face or a gesture.
But if I am busy committing an action, my feelings are entirely focused on the action itself, and there is no time or room for anything else. That's how it was this time, too. I made extremely detailed preparations, though maybe I was the only one who did; for the others, it was as if they were playing a game. Not me. I spent a long time getting ready at home, first of all deciding what I would wear. For two reasons: I wanted to wear the right clothing-so I could move comfortably, easily, fast-and I wanted to satisfy a certain sense of vanity.
It may seem absurd, and ridiculous; maybe it opens me up to irony, speculation, attacks. I can hear them now, saying, "Oh the little gentlemen, getting all gussied up to start a revolution...." But that's how it was. I would never set out to undertake a proletarian expropriation if I didn't feel that I was dressed right, if I didn't feel comfortable: I see nothing odd about that. Dressing well is not what people think: dressing well is feeling comfortable and in harmony with one's clothing, with the cut, the color, and the size. So why shouldn't I try to dress well when I am about to undertake an action, just as I would dress well when I go to the movies? In fact, the very fact that the action is necessarily (and luckily) anonymous proves that choosing one outfit and not another is not a matter of showing off. I remember that on this particular occasion-it was mid-November-I put on a pair of green corduroy trousers-elephant cords-and a heavy ski sweater. And it was weird because everybody else-with the excuse, completely wrongheaded as I saw it, that they shouldn't "stand out"-was wearing clothing that they thought was anonymous and normal, and maybe that clothing was normal, but as soon as they put it on, it seemed strange and outlandish.
Over my sweater, for my part, I wore an enormous red ski windbreaker. And a green ski mask. We made an appointment not far from the boutique, by a phone booth, and that's where we met. I was in charge of the action, even if there was not much leadership involved. There were about a dozen of us, including four girls, all of us very young.
The comrades all gathered at the appointed place separately and at different times. Except that the timing, which was meant as a precaution, nearly turned into a major problem; there were some who showed up-from excessive zeal or simply from carelessness-as much as an hour late, and there we stood, waiting, like a bunch of jerks. All the same, it was incredibly thrilling. There was a feeling in the crowd like the feeling that comes before a huge prank, as well as the sense of complicity that links a group of boys out courting girls their own age. And so we stood there waiting, and one guy would crack a joke, saying, "I'm going to steal a tuxedo"; and another would warn, "Make sure you don't pull out your wallet by mistake on your way out." And a girl would say, "The real problem will be to get colors that match, I certainly don't plan to steal anything I can't wear." And so on.
Finally everyone arrived and I said: "Let's go." And so we walked into the boutique: we milled around a bit so that we were spread out through the two large rooms that made up the store. There were some shoppers, but only a few, and a dozen or so sales clerks, male and female, all young and aggressively stylish. There were two other sales clerks, at the two cash registers. I wandered around for a while and finally came to a stop near a pile of jeans; as long as I was there I figured I would take Levi's. I started looking at the jeans more carefully, as if I were thinking of buying a pair, and the whole time I was saying to myself: "Now. Now. Now."
It was up to me to give the signal. But I hesitated. I kept looking behind me out of the corner of my eye, saying to myself, "A little longer, just another second," and then, "Go!" It occurred to me that my comrades were all looking at me in surprise and concern, and the sales clerks were starting to watch us too. They certainly couldn't guess what we planned to do, but they might have been starting to worry. There might even be an alarm button somewhere in the store. Or a private guard service. Or closed-circuit cameras. And it suddenly dawned on me that if I waited another minute, nothing would happen at all. And so I said to myself: "Now." I straightened up from the pile of pants, just as a clerk, rail-thin, with an especially stupid face, was asking me, "Can I help you? What are you looking for?" In a flash, I pulled my ski mask down over my eyes-we had agreed that would be the signal-and I started shouting, "Send the bill to Andreotti!" All the others started shouting too. I pulled a hammer out of the inside pocket of my windbreaker and said to the clerk, "Don't move, we're liberating this store." The other comrades did more or less the same thing. The girls pulled big trash bags out of their purses and were stuffing into them everything they could grab off the counters. I headed over to the cash registers with another guy, where we cornered the two people who were there, clearly the owners of the store. "We don't want your money," I said, but they kept staring at us in desperation. At the same time, three other comrades stood in front of the door, blocking the entrance to prevent new customers from coming in and cutting off the view from the street, so that what was happening in the store was less visible from outside.
In any case, the whole thing took no more than five minutes. The girls had filled their bags, each one of us had grabbed three stacks of clothing-as much as we could carry in our arms-and I said, "Let's go, everybody move!" The gifts were the first to head for the door, then the guys, and last of all, me. Before I went out the door, I set down a plastic bag right next to the door, and in a very loud voice I said, "This is a bomb. Stay close to that wall, over there, and you will be safe." Later, I learned that they really did stay there, hugging the wall. For a full fifteen minutes. As soon as we got outside, we ran off as fast as we could.
Outside, there were a lot of people, you might say a genuine crowd, so we headed off in twelve different directions. Well, maybe not exactly twelve directions, but almost. With my jeans under my arm I ran toward a wide stretch in the road, no more than five hundred meters away. I had left a sports bag there, between two parked cars, covered by a cardboard box. Luckily, the bag was still there. I opened it and I stuffed the jeans into it, and then I walked off calmly carrying the now-heavy duffel bag.
This first action was an important step. For the first time I was committing an illegal act outside of the context of a mass demonstration. And the same thing was true for most of the comrades who took part in it.
Anna was already there. Present, important.
I am a person basically connected to the idea of a family, a stable emotional context. And I have never been reluctant to consider the idea of children. I have never approved-not that I am scandalized, I just don't approve-of what are generally referred to as "open" couples. They strike me as nothing more than messy. Just to offer a bit of cracker-barrel psychoanalysis, it must be true that the family I grew up in left me with a model to aspire to and a sense of regret.
Anna had a way about her that I liked; she was proud and tended to keep to herself. Once you got past her combative manner, her perennial anger, you felt like the sole privileged possessor of something. This was the closest I had ever come to a traditional relationship. Because it aroused in me a desire to win and possess.
I was never bored with that relationship.
Excerpted from MEMOIRS OF AN ITALIAN TERRORIST Copyright © 1981 by SEMIR
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.